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I was able to speak today on the debate on updates on social security benefits. You can watch the video above, or read by full speech below.

Text of speech

There is one clear aspect of consensus in relation to the update on delivery of social security benefits in Scotland: we all agree that social security is a human right and that it is an investment in people. That is the only part of the Government motion that would not be deleted by Opposition parties in their amendments. There is, right at the heart of the matter, a principle that we can all agree on. We should always strive to find consensus where we can.

There is another key aspect of the Scottish Government motion on which I think we can find consensus. It is the key indicator of the priorities that have been set by the Scottish Government. The motion

“acknowledges the Scottish Government’s record investment of £3.9 billon in benefit expenditure in 2022-23, which is £360 million above that received by the UK Government”—

something that the Conservatives also acknowledge. That investment provides

“meaningful social security support to over one million people, including low-income families and households, disabled people and carers.”

That is a testament to the priorities of the Scottish Government and the consensus in this Parliament. In a mainly block-grant Parliament, that is a fundamental indicator of the priorities that have been set by our Scottish Government, which is seeking to protect the most vulnerable people in society. We have consensus on that.

It is clear to see where expenditure is being invested. We should remind ourselves that campaigners called for a Scottish child payment of £5 a week. The Scottish child payment is now £20 a week and is soon to be £25 a week. It is being rolled out to children in low-income households right across Scotland. This year alone, that is an investment of £225 million that is going to some of the poorest families right across this country. That is a testament to the priorities of the Scottish Government.

I was disappointed to see such a sweeping deletion of the Scottish Government motion in the Labour Party’s amendment—in particular, because the amendment unfortunately seeks to remove reference to very strong cross-party success on delivery of disability benefits reform, which was led by our Scottish Government but moulded by the Parliament. I think that Miles Briggs reflected on that somewhat.

Intervention from Pam Duncan-Glancy - I understand Bob Doris’s disappointment at the deletion of substantial parts of the motion, but many, many disabled people and carers are still on inadequate benefits. The eligibility criteria have not been changed and do not address things such as the 50 per cent rule or the 20m rule. That is why we could not support the Government’s motion.

I will shortly say more about what we are doing for people who are living with disability, but Pam Duncan-Glancy mentioned carers. This Scottish Government has increased the carers allowance supplement by 13 per cent. That is a real commitment to carers; I think that it is reasonable to put that on the record.

The introduction of the child disability and adult disability payments to replace PIP is widely acknowledged to be more humane, compassionate and dignified in terms of the application and assessment process than the UK DWP regime.

In particular, our partnership approach in the Scottish Parliament around clinically determined definitions of terminal illness, fast-tracking of awards and the introduction of indefinite awards will dramatically change the lives of many of my constituents, and many of all members’ constituents, for the better. I know from my constituency case load the corrosive, destructive and devastating impact that the current process can have on individuals and families.

The changes, which were agreed by Parliament, will make a real difference. Our Parliament, led by the Scottish Government, should rightly be proud of them. Of course, we will have to evaluate their impact. We have our social security experience panels and I know that the Scottish Government wants to monitor the success of implementation of the new disability payments.

I absolutely get that Opposition parties will wish to push the Scottish Government further on the cost of living crisis, but saying, as some members have done, that the Scottish Government has done little for the poorest people in society bears no relation to the reality out there. We have the Scottish child payment, which I have spoken about, the mitigation of the bedroom tax, the mitigation of the benefits cap and the uprating of Scottish benefits by 6 per cent. In this year alone, that represents an additional £760 million in the system for the poorest people in society because of decisions that this Government has taken. That is not “little”; it is substantial—but, of course, we always want to seek to do more.

Intervention from Carol Mochan - I thank Bob Doris for his last statement about wanting to do more. That is the point that we are trying to make. We are talking about the Scottish child payment and the carers payments because people with experience are telling us that not enough is being done. There are opportunities for this Parliament, with the powers that it has, to do more. As politicians, we need to stop patting ourselves on the back and instead ask what more we can do.

I thank Carol Mochan for that intervention. To be fair, I point out that the tone of my speech is that we can thank Parliament, rather than the Scottish Government, for the progress that we have made. However, I do not think that it is good enough for Opposition politicians to rubbish the substantial progress that has been made in order to make a party-political point. It feels a little bit like that in relation to the Labour amendment. However, I acknowledge that we should always try to do more.

We have heard today about the low-income winter heating assistance that will be delivered later this year. The £20 million investment will provide £50 per household to 400,000 low-income households. I suspect that, later this year, there will be calls for that to be £100, £200 or £300. I get it—that is politics—but it would have to be paid for.

Likewise, on the carers allowance supplement, we have heard already—I put it on the record—about the 13 per cent increase that the Scottish Government has provided, and we know that there have been two additional payments during the coronavirus pandemic. However, again there are demands to go further. I get that, but it would have to be paid for. It is not enough just to cost things; members have to say where the money will come from. The Opposition parties are singularly silent on that.

I will finish with two points, Presiding Officer, if I can have a little time, given the interventions that I have taken.

The first point is on staffing. I know from speaking to many people that one thing that is happening with staffing is that people who are sick and tired of the DWP system are making active choices to move from the DWP to Social Security Scotland. They are bringing their skill sets and releasing their energies to provide the type of social security system that we actually want. I say to those people that they are very welcome. They are gaining jobs with Social Security Scotland, not losing them under DWP reforms, including, in my constituency, in Springburn.

Finally, I say to the Labour Party that I do not know where the money for what it asks for would come from, but I am going to mention to the Scottish Government something that I would like to happen. As the cost of living crisis really squeezes the most vulnerable people, putting money into the pockets of those people as quickly as possible is the right thing to do.

There are lots of charities and third sector organisations across my constituency, and all members’ constituencies, that will be considering what support they can be provided with so that they can provide emergency food support, fuel support and wraparound support. Not everyone will access all the benefits that they are entitled to and, given such tight budgets, not everyone will budget accordingly to try to make ends meet—nor should they have to.

That immediate emergency support for trusted anchor organisations across our communities is vital. I do not know where the money will come from, but whether it is the Scottish Parliament or the UK Parliament, someone has to find it. We have to get the money out there and into our communities to help the most vulnerable people.

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